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Meredith sees the future, and it’s wearing a skirt


If you know an American woman who doesn’t read a Meredith Corp. magazine, tell her to give CEO Bill Kerr a call. He might be willing to buy up whatever magazines she does read, just to nudge the company one woman closer to its goal of getting them all.

With the purchase of a few more titles last week, Meredith now will be supplying reading material to 135 million American women, covering the range from recent high school graduates to anyone who ever swooned over Frank Sinatra.

At the same time, it looks as if the company has just about given up on men.

The tide was definitely running that way during my stint with Meredith. I started with Family Money magazine, which was originally designed to appeal to every gender we could think of. However, America took a glance at our efforts and got a glazed look in its eyes, so mild panic set in. Tapping into the emergency supply of estrogen that’s kept in a vault at Meredith headquarters, we started aiming everything at women readers. Men disappeared from the cover photos and the articles as quickly as if someone had mentioned shoe shopping.

Near the end, when the panic reached a more mature stage, the magazine tested the other extreme and published an article about the nation’s sexiest male tax advisers. That didn’t quite turn things around either, and the noise of company founder E.T. Meredith Sr. spinning in his grave made it hard to concentrate.

Finally Family Money went away, amid reports that we had managed to record what we like to call a substantial negative profit.

The company was left with only a farming magazine and a woodworking magazine to keep all of America’s men satisfied. With the number of farmers decreasing every day – it has something to with burdensome debt and leaky hydraulic hoses – it put quite a load on those of us in the woodworking division, where I found myself next.

Our readers weren’t leaving the hobby, despite losing a fair number of fingers to their table saws, but they were getting older. So we decided to make radical changes to draw in younger readers. (In the publishing business, this is an idea that comes up every week or so.)

That was the beginning of our home remodeling phase, which began on a bright summer day with a deck that would end up costing as much as a Lexus, and ended a few months later after work wrapped up on the boss’s kitchen.

Again, America was not exactly captivated.

Things returned to normal after that. Oh, one time a honcho from the New York office dropped by and encouraged us to dream up new magazines, and we promised to get right on it.

But we didn’t have much spare time, what with all of the sanding, finishing and trips to the emergency room.

So Meredith left men to fend for themselves and concentrated on women. Now the company is making another sensible move by going after the Spanish-speaking market.

Maybe it’s time to take that final step: a publication for Hispanic women who enjoy building furniture.

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